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John W. Nason Papers

Identifier: SFHL-RG6-D08

Scope and Contents

The Presidential Papers collection consists of the Presidential Papers, 1927-1965, which contains John W.Nason's official correspodence and correspondence with faculty, as well as some correspondence after his retirement from Swarthmore College. Additionally, the series includes a small amount of reports, meeting minutes, and other documents compiled by Nason's Vice President, James A. Perkins, 1944-1946, which was received as a separate transfer. The Personal Papers, 1939-1948, include correspondence which was received as a separate donation. The collection is organized into the following series as received:

  1. Presidential Papers: Correspondence
  2. Presidential Papers: Faculty papers
  3. Presidential Papers: Binder compiled by Vice President James A. Perkins
  4. Personal Papers


  • 1927-1965


Limitations on Accessing the Collection

The collection is open for research with the understanding that certain confidential materials may be redacted. Please contact the repository for more information.

Copyright and Rights Information

Copyright has not been assigned to Friends Historical Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to the Director. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Friends Historical Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

Biographical / Historical

John William Nason was born on February 9, 1905, in St. Paul, Minnesota. He attended high school at St. Paul High School and then went to Phillips Exeter Academy. He attended Carleton College in 1922 and graduated summa cum laude in 1926, having been elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year. He then spent 1926-1927 at Yale Divinity School after receiving a fellowship from the Council on Religion in Higher Education. At the end of the year he was elected a fellow of the Council. From there he went on to Harvard and in 1928 received a Masters degree in Philosophy. That year he was named the Rhodes Scholar from Minnesota and performed his honors work in Philosophy at Oriel College in Oxford University from 1928-1931. At Oriel he was president of the Bryce Club and played both rugby and tennis.

Nason’s first involvement with Swarthmore College came upon his return to the United States in 1931 when he became a philosophy instructor. Once on the faculty he immediately gained respect and responsibility. In 1934 he was promoted to the rank of Assistant Professor and served as head of the department in 1938-1939 in the absence of Professor Blanshard. For three years he assisted Dr. Frank Aydelotte in the administration of both the College and of Rhodes Scholarship nation wide. In 1938-1940 he served as Assistant to the President of the College.

In 1935 John Nason married Bertha Dean White, a Quaker and Swarthmore Honors graduate, Class of 1926, and in 1939 he joined Swarthmore Monthly Meeting. In June of 1940, at the age of thirty-five, Nason became President of Swarthmore College. As a Rhodes Scholar, Nason wholeheartedly supported the Honors Program at Swarthmore College, and he continued the academic mission which had been established by Frank Aydelotte. More than Aydelotte, Nason actively cultivated the alumni financial support, and his term differed markedly in the everyday life of the campus due to the impact of World War II. Nason supported the war effort, believing Hitler to be a greater evil, and he came to the presidency at a difficult time in its history. Students and faculty members began to leave campus to do war work, so in 1943, Nason implemented a summer session for both Swarthmore students and nearly three hundred Navy men. In the fall of 1943, the Chinese Navy sent forty-nine officers to Swarthmore to study English. By the next year, there were little more than four hundred civilian students on campus along with two hundred-fifty Navy men.

After the War, in the fall of 1946, enrollment reached an all-time high of over 1,000 students. An additional dorm, Mary Lyon, was purchased to respond to the overflow. Issues such as integration were addressed, and there was a call from the student body to accept more students of color and more Jewish students. The enrollment began to settle to a number around 1,000 while the number and quality of the applicants kept increasing, further establishing Swarthmore reputation for excellence.

John Nason is perhaps best known for his work on behalf of Japanese-American students during WWII. He served for three years at chairman of the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council which liberated more than 4,000 interned students from the War Relocation Authority’s camps and found places for them in 600 colleges and universities

In 1952 after twelve years of presidency and twenty-one years overall of teaching at Swarthmore, Nason resigned. After he left Swarthmore, he served as president of the Foreign Policy Association and later as president of his alma mater, Carleton College, from 1962-1970. He also served as a trustee of the Hazen and Danforth Foundations, United Negro College Fund, Vassar College, and Phillips Exeter Academy, and wrote a number of publications. At Swarthmore College, the John W. Nason Garden and Outdoor Classroom and the John W. Nason Community Service Fellowship were established in his honor. John Nason died on November 17, 2001, at Crosslands, a Quaker life care community in Kennett Square, Pa.


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In June 1940 at the age of thirty-five, John W. Nason (1905-2001) became the eighth president of Swarthmore College. A strong proponent of the Honors Program, he continued the mission of academic excellence established by Frank Aydelotte while adapting the campus to the pressures of World War. The first series of this collection, 1927-1965, contains John W.Nason's official correspondence and correspondence with faculty. There is also one box of reports collected by Nason's Vice President James A. Perkins, 1944-1946, received as a separate records transfer. Series B, Personal Papers, 1939-1948, includes correspondence received as a separate donation.

Physical Location

For current information on the location of materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donor: President's Office

Donor: Gift of John Nason, 1975

Donor: Vice President's Office

Processing Information

Series A of this collection was originally processed ca. 1972 at which time materials were sorted, placed into folders, and inventoried. Series B was originally processed ca. 1975. Both collections were reprocessed in 1999/2000 as part of the reorganization of the Swarthmore College Archives. A new finding aid was produced.

In 1983, on the request of John Nason, 27 folders of records relating to the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council, 1942-1946 and undated, were removed from Series 3 and transferred to the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.

In 2016, a binder of records compiled by Nason's Vice President, James A. Perkins, was transferred from the Vice President's Office and added to this collection.

Finding Aid for John W. Nason Papers, 1927-1965
FHL staff
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Find It at the Library

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